The transparent insects paused for one moment, and then they began to gnaw even more frantically. The giant creature’s blood must have been poisonous because many insects became weak and fell off after coming into contact with it. Even so, more would just rise up, emerging in an endless stream.
Yellow lines were interwoven in their field of vision, and the young man’s figure followed it’s trajectory. He hit a key point every time. First, the second foot, then the fifth carapace, the left antennae, and the pincers were cut off one after another, revealing the firmly protected flesh underneath. The transparent insects swarmed up, seeming intent on swallowing the giant creature completely.
Too many ants can kill an elephant. Although the fighting power of each insect wasn’t high, they were too difficult for the giant creature to fight off. It was simply too big, and it had no way of fighting them off. It could only thrash frantically around the test lab.
Dong Zheng hit its already deteriorating compound eye with a single shot. Cui Zuojing hit the iron while it was hot and directly stabbed his sword straight through the wound that Dong Zheng had made.
The sword pierced the largest organ inside the creature’s skull—the brain. Three thousand years had passed, and it had long been mutated by biochemical agents. As a result, it had evolved a “brain” that wasn’t there before.
The creature’s body suddenly stiffened, and it crashed to the ground, struggling desperately.
The creature’s entire body was controlled by countless ganglia, strategically placed in various areas on its body. Unlike having only one brain, they could make decisions faster. This was a survival mechanism similar to how flies and cockroaches could still survive for several days after decapitation, until they eventually starve to death.
But the creature’s size was so large that its ganglia weren’t able to properly control its body without the guidance of a brain. The giant creature thrashed for a long time, but it still couldn’t manage to get back up. It was obviously unable to overcome this turn of events.
The large swath of transparent insects on the creature slowly disappeared. Wang Que suddenly collapsed without making a single sound.
Dong Zheng rushed through the water to help her up. The young woman’s eyes were firmly closed. Her lips had taken on a blue tint. She’d obviously completely lost consciousness.
“She fainted from overusing her ability.” Cui Zuojing shook the green blood from the sword and came over to check on her. He added, “It’s exactly the same as when you were in the Labyrinth of Time.”
Dong Zheng put Wang Que on his back. The giant creature was still in its death throes and was stirring the green water with its thrashing. He ignored it and said in a low voice, “Let’s go. We need to find them.”
The communication channel was full of Dong Linhai and Lin Hangzhi’s voices, which sounded like they were going through a great battle. Just as Cui Zuojing and Dong Zheng were rushing in the direction where Lin Hangzhi had disappeared, Dong Linhai’s voice suddenly came in through the communicator, “Fuck! I got it!”
Dong Zheng hurriedly asked, “How is the situation?”
Dong Linhai couldn’t answer. The communication channel was full of extreme chaos. Then, after half a minute, it finally calmed.
Lin Hangzhi gasped harshly and said in a half-dead voice, “It’s okay. We killed it…probably.”
“Fucker,” Dong Linhai cussed. He looked at the surrounding environment and said, “We’re in the second room on the left. Is your side okay? How’s Wang Que?”
“She fainted. We’ll come to you,” Dong Zheng said quickly. Although the creature behind him wasn’t completely dead yet, he wasn’t willing for them to expend too much firepower. This meant that they could only leave as soon as possible.
God knows what else they would meet, so it’s better to save their energy.
As he waited with Dong Linhai, Lin Hangzhi stood on a step that wasn’t completely submerged. He inspected his protective suit, and seeing that there was no damage, he couldn’t help but let out a sigh of relief.
There must be a lot of small organisms in the water. Maybe, there might even be the kind of insects that parasitized Allen. If the fabric tore, with his ugly luck, he would definitely die here.
There was the horrible corpse of an insect at Dong Linhai’s foot. It’d been stabbed hundreds of times and then shot to death. The insect was similar to a squid, with thick, long tentacles with barbs. To be frank, it was so mutated that it was unclear what kind of insect it’d once been, but now it looked somewhat similar to Cthulhu.
After ensuring that everyone was safe, they dared not stay here any longer and set off right away.
Without Wang Que’s perception, they could only rely on Dong Zheng to lead the way using the model of the institute in his kernel. He didn’t know if there were any insects ahead or how many there were, so he could only rely on instinct.
It seemed that the giant creature was already the most dangerous challenge on this floor. Dong Zheng chose the shortest path from the stairs, but they didn’t encounter any particularly troublesome insects. While carrying Wang Que, he used his ability to give Cui Zuojing the most efficient method of killing. Meanwhile, Dong Linhai and Lin Hangzhi used firepower as the mode of suppression. As a result, they smoothly advanced through the path.
They took another staircase and entered the fourth floor underground. After overcoming many obstacles, they finally arrived at the main control room’s front door. Dong Zheng used the access card to open the door, only to learn that they needed a key. He thought for a while and inserted the U disk they’d obtained into the usb interface.
Right now, they didn’t have many props. Might as well give this a try.
A green light lit door, and then it slowly opened in front of everyone.
It really worked!
Only at this moment did Cui Zuojing really feel like they were in a three-star box.
With victory within sight, everyone began excited. They walked into the main control room one after another, their body still tense. The door closed automatically behind them, blocking the dangers outside. Dong Zheng activated the terminal and used the access card to enter the menu interface. The operation control was similar to the one at the base, and he just have to find the option to transmit a signal.
A system prompt appeared, telling him that he needed to press the corresponding button to proceed to the next step.
“Corresponding button?” Dong Linhai was puzzled. “Have we encountered any hints along the way?”
“No.” Dong Zheng thought about it and randomly pressed the blue button that he thought might be it.
An error message immediately popped up on the screen, reminding him that he still had two more tries. If the next two attempts were also incorrect, he would need to wait an hour before trying again.
Lin Hangzhi was shocked, “Can this happen? Is it normal for things to lock after just three tries?”
“That’s right.” Cui Zuojing nodded thoughtfully. “This push button should be hard to find. Otherwise, it wouldn’t leave us with a chance for trial and error. I was wondering why it only took us two days to find the main control room, but why was there a 72-hour time limit? Sure enough, the box wouldn’t deliberately leave us with so much extra time.”
“If this is the case, we might as well try it out…” Dong Zheng turned to look at Lin Hangzhi. “Hangzhi, you come.”
“Me, come?” Lin Hangzhi pointed to himself, somewhat surprised. Then, realization dawned and with an “Oh,” he went to the terminal.
After considering it carefully, this kind of setting was simply tailored for his ability.
His gaze slowly swept through dozens of buttons in varying sizes on the panel, and he shed a drop of cold sweat.
This was too difficult!
Dong Zheng lightly put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. We still have nearly a whole day. Even if we have to try one by one, we can do it.”
Lin Hangzhi nodded and took a deep breath. He stared at the control panel, emptying his mind, and turning everything over to his intuition.
Everyone waited quietly, not daring to cause any changes in the atmosphere, for fear that it would disturb Lin Hangzhi. Ten seconds later, Lin Hangzhi suddenly looked to the left, raised both hands, and pressed the middle button and left button at the same time.
A beep sounded. The buttons lit up and the screen jumped to a page with the image of a signal being transmitted.
Lin Hangzhi breathed a sigh of relief, wiped the sweat on his forehead, and quickly retreated to the side, far away from everyone. He was tense, always paying attention to his surroundings, and was ready to deal with the possible retribution that might come any time.
“We have to press both at the same time?” Dong Linhai couldn’t help but curse. “If it wasn’t because Brother Hang is so capable, who would have thought of it? Even if we could try pressing a button at a time, we wouldn’t be able to try it all.”
Cui Zuojing’s brows furrowed, and he stroke his chin thoughtfully. His eyes met Dong Zheng, and he saw the speculation in the other person’s eyes.
“Let’s send a signal first and wait until we go back,” he said.
Dong Zheng quickly edited the distress signal to have exactly the same content as in the military base. The progress bar on the screen moved forward slowly. After three minutes, it reached 100%. As everyone nervously watched, the words “Successfully transmitted” popped up.
Everyone was relieved.
In the upper left corner of their field of vision, the countdown stopped at 23:57:12. The main mission task “Send a contact signal to settlers outside the system” disappeared and was soon replaced by “Leave the Institute of Biochemistry and wait for the door to open.”
The screen gradually dimmed. Dong Zheng checked his oxygen content and said in a low voice, “Let’s go.”
They didn’t leave immediately after completing the main task as expected. They still had to leave the Institute of Biochemistry and go back out into the vast snowfield.
The distress signal broke through the atmosphere at the speed of light and shot out into the vast space. It would reach the neighboring galaxy in four years’ time. Maybe it would be intercepted on the way, so that the people here would only have to wait a few years. Maybe there would be no response. After all, no one knew what happened to the spacecraft that had left for the neighboring galaxies three thousand years ago.
They might have successfully settled into their target galaxy and continued to expand human civilization. Or perhaps, they encountered some accidents along the way and landed on a spare star. Or maybe…they were buried somewhere in the vast universe and the only hope left for humankind was the sleeping people in the underground military bases.
Dong Zheng thought of the sentence in Border Town. (1)
Perhaps rescue might come tomorrow, or perhaps it might never come.
The future of the entire planet and of mankind was shrouded in mist. The past civilization was now buried under ice and snow, leaving the future complicated and unknown.
But anyway, as pilgrims, they had completed all their tasks, and now the only thing left was to wait for the exit to appear.
Although they’d successfully cleared another box, Dong Zheng didn’t feel the slightest bit of excitement in his heart. Six people had entered the box together, but now, there were only five people left.
Although they knew that everyone had a risk of dying in the box at any time, when it really happened, very few people could calmly accept it.
Dong Zheng couldn’t help thinking of Cui Zuojing. At that time, although Cui Zuojing had tried his best to comfort him, he himself didn’t show any sadness at all.
Dong Zheng didn’t know if Cui Zuojing had simply become accustomed to the separation of life and death, or was he…was he naturally more indifferent than ordinary people?
He calmly glanced at Cui Zuojing, who was slightly pursing his lips and looking down at the chip on the Tang Sword.
Lin Hangzhi nervously stayed in the corner for a long time, but there were no signs of imminent disaster. He asked doubtfully, “Huh?”
Previously, when he used his ability, the repercussion would arrive as soon as possible. But why was it that this time…?
Lin Hangzhi thought carefully, and he suddenly had a fantastical conjecture. He remembered his recent bad luck. Could it…could it be that his bad luck was overdrawn in advance, and he was allowed to use his good luck this time without suffering bad luck all at once?
He was taken aback by this thought. Although it sounded a little bit far-fetched, if he thought about it carefully, it seemed very possible!
He became excited. If, if this was really the case, then he only needed to spend a little bit of bad luck daily on trivial things. He could allow his good luck to accumulate and use it only at a critical time. This way, the bad luck wouldn’t interfere with things.
Lin Hangzhi excitedly told everyone about his speculation. Cui Zuojing raised an eyebrow, thought about it carefully, and admitted that it made sense. “I’ve been thinking about how your ability could evolve in the future. If that’s the case, it would be much more convenient. After we get back, we can test it out.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Lin Hangzhi smiled. He was just about to say something, when his left foot suddenly stepped on his right foot. With a cry, he fell flat on his face.
Facts had proven that overdrawing bad luck in advance didn’t necessarily mean that it would be completely neutralized.
They returned the same way they’d come. Some of the insects they had killed along the way were no longer where they’d been left. They probably didn’t die completely and slowly crawled away to hide elsewhere. The giant creature they’d defeated in the test lab was still floating on the dirty water, giving off a foul smell.
Some of the larger insects were being eaten by smaller insects, making them unrecognizable. On the second floor, they came to the place where they’d encountered the large centipede. They only saw a pool of dark green “bloodstain” and countless dead male sand crickets scattered amidst broken centipede legs.
The elevator that connected the first floor to the second floor was destroyed by the giant cockroach. They dared not ride it and opted for the stairs instead. Many insects that tried to intercept them were met with bullets, laser beams, and raging flames.
After 6 hours of fighting in the underground institute, the group finally re-entered the safe house. Cui Zuojing took off his helmet, sucked in a deep breath full of normal air, and rubbed his temples tiredly.
Dong Zheng said, “Should we rest here for a while or go out directly?”
Cui Zuojing answered, “Go out directly. My guess is that the exit will appear once we go outside. In which case, there’s no point in delaying time here.”
Wang Que still hadn’t woken up yet and was still lying quietly on Dong Zheng’s back. She’d summoned too many transparent insects. It was far beyond the range she could bear. Her brain had fallen into self-protection mode, and it was likely that it might take her two days to wake up.
After rearranging their equipment, they got on the elevator and returned to the ground floor.
When adding in the rest time spent in the safe house, they’d spent a total of 19 hours in the Institute of Biochemistry. It was noon when they entered, but now the sun was slowly rising over the mountains, using light and heat to drive away the extreme cold of the night.
“Where’s the door?” Dong Zheng asked after looking around and not finding the exit.
Cui Zuojing had a lot of experience with this kind of limited time copy. “It’s possible that we can take a stroll in whatever direction. After a period of time, the door would automatically appear.”
Upon hearing this, Dong Zheng led everyone back the way they came. Cui Zuojing followed after him. Although Dong Zheng hadn’t said anything, he knew that Dong Zheng really wanted to go back to the cliff where Allen had fallen and see whether there was a way to go down and retrieve Allen’s body.
Cui Zuojing felt that perhaps it was the lack of family care in his childhood that made Dong Zheng particularly affectionate. Dong Zheng didn’t say anything and suppressed everything in his heart. Even though the emotional link between them was closed, Cui Zuojing could still sense his sadness.
The snow was falling again, but fortunately it wasn’t too windy. They had been walking for more than half an hour when Ding Linhai suddenly exclaimed, “Look there!”
Cui Zuojing looked in the direction he was pointing at and saw the bright light from the door. It wasn’t too far away, but they still needed to climb up the mountain a bit more.
Cui Zuojing’s eyes lit up. “That’s it. Let’s go!”
With Lin Hangzhi leading, Dong Linhai walking in the middle with Wang Que on his back, and Dong Zheng following, they headed toward the door. Dong Linhai was the first to go through the door with Wang Que on his back. Lin Hangzhi entered after him and his back soon disappeared.
Dong Zheng stopped.
Through some intuition, he turned his head and looked at the mountain in the distance.
A man in black clothes was standing at the top of the mountain. His blond hair was messed up by the wind. Through a layer of snowfall, he watched them from a distance.
“Hey?” Cui Zuojing followed Dong Zheng’s gaze, but he didn’t see anything. “What’s wrong?”
Dong Zheng felt his vision go blurry for a moment and when he looked closely, he realized that there was nothing on the mountain except white snow.
He frowned and looked around for the figure, but it was nowhere to be found.
In the end, he could only shake his head and said, “Maybe it’s just snow blindness making me see things. Let’s go.”
Dong Zheng turned and walked through the door. Cui Zuojing was a step behind him, but at this moment, a violent wind swept at him from behind!
Cui Zuojing’s excellent reflex allowed him to lift the sword in time, blocking the nine-section whip before it could hit him. The whip wrapped around the sword, but the tip still managed to graze across his cheek, leaving a thin trail of blood.
The black-haired, dark-eyed young man stood nearby, holding a long whip. His bloodshot eyes were full of paranoia and madness. His jaws were clenched tightly, and his clothes were torn and ragged. His exposed arms had countless large and small wounds. It was shocking that someone could manage to hurt him like this.
The snake was nowhere to be seen.
Cui Zuojing narrowed his eyes and gripped the Tang Sword tighter. Although the J that faced him looked only 17 or 18 years old, his great strength managed to make half of Cui Zuojing’s arm go numb.
J ferociously pulled on the whip. The other end of the nine-section whip was still wrapped around the Tang Sword, and it nearly dragged it away. After only two rounds, Cui Zuojing confirmed that in his current condition, he could hardly be J’s opponent, not unless he used the power of time.
So why not use it. It was clearly his power!
There was a glimmer of light on the inside of his wrist. Cui Zuojing recalled the feeling of waking up from his drunkenness that day and throwing cherry blossoms in front of Dong Zheng. In that moment, the falling snow slowed and the whole world became quiet.
He could clearly see that nine-section whip’s every movement in the air. J’s mouth opening wider as he began to yell. The snow flying under their footsteps.
Cui Zuojing pulled out the sword and ruthlessly hit J’s face.
He saw J’s face being slapped to the side. The muscles quivered. Saliva and blood slowly spurted out from his mouth and nostrils, flying in the air and then gradually accelerating.
One second before time returned to normal, Cui Zuojing sneered. Holding his sword, he stepped through the door, leaving J’s infuriated roar to the box.
The surrounding blinked, and he found himself in the living room of their apartment. Everyone was waiting for him. Seeing Cui Zuojing’s face full of satisfaction, but with a line of blood on his cheek, Dong Zheng immediately frowned.
“I met a madman on the way out. It’s nothing.” With his thumb, Cui Zuojing wiped the wound on his cheek that was no longer bleeding. Then, he slowly licked the blood off the pad of his thumb. With a smile, he said, “I hope it’s not poisonous.”
Victor appeared beside Dong Linahi and climbed onto the back of the sofa. He placed his paw on the back of Cui Zuojing’s hand to purify him.
Dong Zheng looked deeply at the snow globe on the ground. It had a small house surrounded by pine trees, and floating foam snow.
On the base of the snow globe was a small opened door.
This was the box they’d just entered.
Wang Que was still unconscious. Their protective suits, weapons, and equipment disappeared the moment they left the box. Dong Zheng held the snow globe in his hand, took out the key without saying a word, and inserted it into the living room door.
They returned to the castle.
As always, Fu Zhe was waiting for them in front of the table in the living room. The young man with tear moles under his eyes looked toward them and saw the deep exhaustion and grave silence on their faces. But, he didn’t see the person with striking red hair.
The flames burned quietly in the fireplace, but the man who would often squat in front of it to feed the cat could no longer come back.
Dong Linhai couldn’t restrain himself and began to tear up once again.
Fu Zhe understood everything in that moment, and the smile on his face gradually faded.
He gently closed the book in his hand, stood up, and said what he’d always said to them when they returned, full of exhaustion.
(1) Border Town — A novella written by Shen Congwen and first published in 1934.
——Volume VI: Snow Parasite Trail [Ends]——